fossas, falanoucs, and bokibokys

The Eupleridae: small carnivores of Madagascar

Chad Arment (2023)

As noted in the article on lemur dispersal and diversification, there is a great deal of interest among biologists regarding the biogeography of Madagascar and particularly how terrestrial vertebrates arrived there. While not as well-known as lemurs, other mammal groups like small carnivores and insectivores also dispersed to Madagascar, with rafting being the likely mechanism. For creationists, this would have occurred in the post-Flood period.


Traditionally, the small endemic carnivores of Madagascar were variously placed with the viverrids (genets and kin) (Albignac 1972) or sometimes herpestids (mongooses) based on recognizable morphological traits. Members of the subfamily Galidiinae are very mongoose-like (sometimes called Malagasy mongooses) while the Euplerinae are genet-like (especially Fossa fossana, sometimes called the Malagasy civet). There were early indications this was not quite accurate, as when the fossa, Cryptoprocta ferox, showed molecular affinities to the Herpestidae, but had the auditory structure typical of viverrids (Veron and Catzeflis 1993). Genetic investigation eventually determined that all endemic Madagascan carnivores descended from a single introduction, and had a herpestid ancestor (Yoder et al. 2003). Biologists explain the similarities of some genera to viverrids as simply biological convergence (Gaubert et al. 2005).

We only have subfossils of the Family Eupleridae, as no pre-Holocene fossils have been discovered. So, phylogenetic analysis must rely on genetics of the known species. Only one extinct species is recognized, the giant fossa (Cryptoprocta spelea). This was a much larger fossa, one that possibly weighed up to twice what a modern adult fossa weighs (large males can get to about 8.5 kg). It likely preyed opportunistically on the larger, now extinct, subfossil lemurs, and appears to have been capable of preying on lemurs up to 80-85 kg. Evidence of predation by the giant fossa has been found in most of the extinct lemurs (Goodman et al. 2004; Meador et al. 2019). Interestingly, there are still stories of the fosabe (big fosa), and one biologist believes that he may have seen such an animal, “twice the size and much darker than the common fossa” (Nomenjanahary et al. 2019).

There are seven genera within the Eupleridae, and about nine living species (depending on author). The subfamily Galidiinae is monophyletic: “Galidia is the first to branch off, then Galidictis, and our results show that Salanoia is sister to Mungotictis” (Veron et al. 2017). Fossa and Eupleres form a sister clade to the Galidiinae, and that grouping forms a sister clade to Cryptoprocta (Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds 2012; Zhou, Wang, and Ma 2017).

subfamily euplerinae

Cryptoprocta ferox (fossa or fosa), Cryptoprocta spelea, Eupleres goudotti (falanouc),

Fossa fossana (fanaloka)

subfamily galidiinae

Galidia elegans (ring-tailed vontsira), Galidictis fasciata, Galidictis grandidieri,

Mungotictis decemlineata (bokiboky), Salanoia concolor, Salanoia durrelli

A Creation Biology Perspective

For creationists, the euplerids are the result of an offshoot from within the mongooses (Family Herpestidae) which diversified once they reached Madagascar. This makes the herpestids a multi-familial baraminic lineage. Of course, this begs the question as to how far up the hierarchical tree this particular baraminic lineage goes. It is tempting, because of the convergence seen with members of the Family Viverridae, to suspect that those two families are related, but there are other groups that are much closer morphologically and genetically to euplerids. Within the superfamily Herpestoidea are the Hyaenidae and two fossil families. More work needs to be done, though creation biologists first need to come up with a way to distinguish baraminic discontinuity from saltational discontinuity.

Euplerids continue to be negatively impacted by extensive habitat loss and the introduction of exotic carnivores, especially feral dogs and the Indian civet (Gerber et al. 2012). At least one, Galidictis grandidieri, is considered one of the rarest carnivores in the world, and likely to become extinct (Cartagena-Matos et al. 2017). Creation biologists should be particularly mindful of those baraminic lineages where significant branches are under conservation pressure. Opportunities for conservation work, especially in areas where Christianity is sparsely accepted, may offer a door for practical creation evangelism.


Albignac, R. 1972. The Carnivora of Madagascar. In Biogeography and Ecology in Madagascar. Monographiae Biologicae, Vol. 21. eds. Battistini, R., and G. Richard-Vindard. Dordrecht: Springer.

Cartagena-Matos, B., et al. 2017. Trends in the extinction of carnivores in Madagascar. Animal Biodiversity and Conservation 40(1): 103-114.

Gaubert, P., et al. 2005. Mosaics of convergences and noise in morphological phylogenies: What’s in a viverrid-like carnivoran? Systematic Biology 54(6): 865-894.

Gerber, B. D., et al. 2012. Activity patterns of carnivores in the rain forests of Madagascar: Implications for species coexistence. Journal of Mammalogy 93(3): 667-676.

Goodman, S. M., et al. 2004. On the specific identification of subfossil Cryptoprocta (Mammalia, Carnivora) from Madagascar. Zoosystema 26(1): 129-143.

Meador, L. R., et al. 2019. Cryptoprocta spelea (Carnivora: Eupleridae): What did it eat and how do we know? Journal of Mammalian Evolution 26: 237-251.

Nomenjanahary, E. S., et al. 2021. The stories people tell, and how they can contribute to our understanding of megafaunal decline and extinction in Madagascar. Malagasy Nature 15: 159-179.

Nyakatura, K., and O. R. P. Bininda-Emonds. 2012. Updating the evolutionary history of Carnivora (Mammalia): A new species-level supertree complete with divergence time estimates. BMC Biology 10(12): 1-31.

Veron, G., and F. M. Catzeflis. 1993. Phylogenetic relationships of the endemic Malagasy carnivore Cryptoprocta ferox (Aeluroidea): DNA/DNA hybridization experiments. Journal of Mammalian Evolution 1(3): 169-185.

Veron, G., et al. 2017. New insights into the systematics of Malagasy mongoose-like carnivorans (Carnivora, Eupleridae, Galidiinae) based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 00: 1-15.

Yoder, A. D., et al. 2003. Single origin of Malagasy Carnivora from an African ancestor. Nature 421: 734-737.

Zhou, Y., S.-R. Wang, and J.-Z. Ma. 2017. Comprehensive species set revealing the phylogeny and biogeography of Feliformia (Mammalia, Carnivora) based on mitochondrial DNA. PLoS ONE 12(3): e0174902.